Former journalism head Whitaker returns

Shawntaye Hopkins

David B. Whitaker fumbled with a disassembled newspaper, placing the sections on the table in front of him.

He crossed his legs and relaxed in his recliner. As he spoke about his days at Western, Whitaker reached to a small, round coffee table and picked up a brochure for tomorrow’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni luncheon.

Although the Louisville native retired from Western as head of the journalism program 16 years ago, his ties with the university began nearly 46 years before that.

As the time nears for Whitaker to be inducted into the Hall, it is clear that his contributions to journalism at Western have not been forgotten.

Whitaker was the first head of the journalism program when it was created in 1977. Many agree that he laid the foundation for today’s nationally recognized School of Journalism and Broadcasting.

Whitaker came to Western just as World War II was erupting.

“I’ll never forget when I came here in 1941 and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” he said. “And everybody was leaving for the war.”

After serving in the Marine Corps, Whitaker returned to his home on the Hill.

He graduated from Western in 1948 with degrees in English and economics. He was the Herald editor-in-chief in 1942 and 1947.

Afterwards, he worked for the Daily Kentuckian, a Bowling Green newspaper that folded after a short time. He moved to the Daily News in 1948.

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” he said.

Whitaker said he worked at the Daily News for three years before he accepted a job at the Courier-Journal in Louisville. He was a sportswriter at the Courier-Journal for 12 years.

He later worked at The Louisville Times for five years.

Whitaker said he was offered a position at Western twice before he accepted the third offer. He wanted to return to the Hill all along, but he wasn’t offered enough money at first.

“I was glad,” Whitaker said. “It was like coming home for me.”

Whitaker became the director of Student Publications and worked simultaneously as the head of the newly created journalism program.

“He is the sole reason that journalism became what it is today at Western,” said Jim Ausenbaugh, a former journalism faculty member.

Ausenbaugh was working late one night as the state editor of the Courier-Journal when he received a call from Whitaker, who wanted Ausenbaugh to teach an

editing class.

Ausenbaugh, who came to Western in 1976, said Whitaker hired him because he had experience in the journalism field, not because of his academic background.

He said Whitaker wanted to hire people who could bring a sense of realism to the classrooms.

Dero Downing, a former Western president, agreed.

“He understood the theories, but he also understood the practical applications of them,” he said.

Downing said Whitaker valued fairness and objectivity.

“He embraced, practiced and taught responsible journalism,” Downing said.

Mike Morse, a retired photojournalism professor, said Whitaker also helped create the photojournalism program.

Morse said he was working at the Daily News when Whitaker asked him to come to Western to teach basic photography.

“Mr. Whitaker said, ‘I just want you to make this the best program in the country,'” Morse said.

Now, Whitaker is spending his time mainly at home. On most days, he reads three different newspapers and has family and friends close by to support him.

Tomorrow, Whitaker will return to Western once again. And he has not been disappointed by the development of the journalism program.

“The college today – I marvel at how it’s gone,” he said.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]